Jay Johnson -- A recent NY Times had an interesting article called The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety. My reaction to it echoed what a fine art dealer just told me.
He said, "We're surrounded by great art galleries, lots of artists working in every possible medium, and auctions and estate sales recycling beautiful works of art at fractions of their original price. Why should anyone suffer from this so-called art anxiety?"
It's a good point, yet we know many decorators who claim that art is the bane of their clients' existence. They work with designers to whip together decisions to purchase a dining room table, chairs, and fabrics in a jiffy, but the blank walls of a room fill them with dread.
I asked our resident design expert, Irwin Weiner ASID, about this phenomenon. "Art is a very personal thing. It's emotional to most people. Clients usually react very positively or negatively to any work of art. That love it/hate it reaction oftentimes paralyzes the client from making any art decisions, either with me holding their hand and giving my professional opinion or them trying to act on their own."
I asked Irwin if art anxiety plagues any of his clients. "Absolutely," he said, "and it makes a big difference in how a room turns out. To me if there is no art on the walls, I can't professionally photograph and include that room in my design portfolio or submit it to a shelter magazine. It's just not finished without artwork or some other elements that would take the place of traditional paintings on a wall -- things like tapestries, wallhangings, decorative panels, murals, sculptures, screens, or decorative wallcoverings."
When pressed further, Irwin observed that "art should be no different from any other part of the interior design of a home." A dining room table, going back to that earlier example, will have a practical purpose to fit a room, seat so many people, and be made of a certain type of material. It has utility, but it also has decorative value. There is a sculptural form with the best tables and chairs, and that puts it in the "art category," fairly and squarely. The stain on wood, the lacquer on a painted surface, and the fabric patterns and colors on the seat cushions and backs all add to the "art" of the room -- the texture, the palette, the mood, and all those other attributes we have a tendency to assign solely to works of art hanging on a wall.
So why is it that when we can't sit in it, eat on it, or otherwise use it, we get anxiety over making decorating decisions regarding art?
Here's my solution: I say let's look at art as if we were picking out a sofa, a throw pillow, or an area rug. Work with your art dealer, interior designer, or home staging professional and see works of art as teammates with your furnishings and accessories. Lighten up and toss away your art anxiety! Try fingerpainting and hang up your creation on the refrigerator with magnets. That's a good start. Now try appreciating someone else's artwork and hang it up on the wall. That didn't hurt much, did it?
I'm obviously being facetious here, but the point harkens back to Irwin's biggest observation about home decorating. "I see so many people with design emergencies," he told me. "They are in absolute Crisis Mode when it comes to decorating. My reply is usually to give them calming words, talk them down from the ledge, and tell them there is no such thing as a decorating emergency. Repeat this mantra: It's only decorating. Mistakes happen, but they can be undone. You won't be stuck with anything forever. Colors, fabrics, furniture, and artwork can all be moved around, freshened up, recycled, stored away, then brought back out again after you've had a rest."
Irwin's funniest observation, however, is this gem. "Art is not like a toilet or a bathtub. Thank heavens a picture is not permanently installed as part of the plumbing. You can easily slide it up or down, hang it more to the left or to the right, or move it to another room. You can swap it for something else that fits your mood, the seasons, or your changing taste. But again, if it were a toilet, you'd be stuck with it on your wall and it would be hell to change. But it's not, so take a deep breath and start to have some fun with it."
Here are a few tips to help reduce art anxiety:
- Try cramming loads of pictures floor to ceiling to create a richly interesting art gallery feel. That's a great decorating tip for an entry hall or second-floor hallway.
- Hang photos or artwork on the back of passage and closet doors. Use Velcro tabs on the bottoms of the frames to hold them fast to the doors and keep them from moving around when the door is opened or closed.
- Auctions and estate sales usually have great art buys. For a few hundred dollars you can pick up large canvases that would look smashing in your rooms. You can't go wrong when so little money is at risk. Friends of ours recently went to a NJ auction house and spent up to $15 for large works of modern art, far less than what the frames alone cost. Look for bargains.
- If you live in a large city or a community with a lot of galleries, jump into one of the regular "gallery crawls," usually on a Friday or weekend night. (There's even a great Gallery Crawl podcast series that features northern CA galleries.) Crawls are open houses where many galleries in a neighborhood open their doors to the public, serve wine and cheese, and encourage casual browsing. Go from gallery to gallery, make notes of what strikes your fancy, and take showroom cards and other information home with you. Revisit favorite works of art online or at the gallery sometime after the crawl. Do you still like them? Then swoop in for the purchase!
- Sit down with your art rep or design professional and make an Art Plan for your rooms. Discuss beforehand what might look great in your space. Art reps can show you online or offline artist portfolios or slides and you can get some great ideas of what might work on different walls.
- If you don't see 100% of what you want from an artist, but you're drawn to their style or media, you might want to commission your own work of art with a theme or color scheme that's right for you.
- Get a professional's second opinion on works of art. Trust the professional's judgment to help you coordinate works of art with the other elements of your decor. Oftentimes a designer has been schooled to know the best elements of different art styles and periods. Let a pro help you can feel better about your art purchases.
- Establish an art budget when you're professionally decorating your home. Then spend that art budget. It will make all the difference in whether your home looks finished or not.
- Remember, you can always sell a painting or other work of art. It's not a permanent fixture in your home unless you want it to be. Approach any art purchase with the attitude that you can't make a mistake.
- Are you buying art for an investment? That's another story, and you should do your homework. Here's an article from The Boston Globe called Buying Art as an Investment. It's a good place to start.
I encourage you to check out our YouTube Design2Share video channel and our exciting new Blinkx Design2Share video channel. We showcase my art, the art of videos, in both of those channels. I am not a professional video photographer, but I have a great time shooting things that catch my wandering eye.
Watch these three Design2Share videos that pertain to art, and you'll be inspired to reduce your art anxiety and enjoy adding works of art to your home and being more open and creative with your designer:
- Painting Girl is a new favorite. I added the music of an English folk singer to shots I took in February at a friend's new gallery show. Check out Alexandra Avlonitis and her colorful landscapes. We bought a piece at her show, and we suffered absolutely zero art anxiety!
- Manhattan Graffiti Wall blew my mind. Walking down the street one day, I came upon this elaborate wall of community art and graffiti that completely impressed me. I'm not a fan of vandalism, but even the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions recognize the beauty of urban street art with special exhibitions. Enjoy, and try to take some of that freedom of artistic expression and energy with you when you decorate your home.
- One Foot Square Art Show captures the fun and energy around an art gallery crawl. Shot in a gallery complex in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, you'll see that art can be wildly diverse and interesting. This exhibit showcased one-foot square canvases only, and artists came up with amazing variations using this creative requirement.
Good luck to you as you conquer art anxiety. It's time to stop being paralyzed and understand that when it comes to decorating your home, art matters.